My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I declare my interest as chairman of a learning disability charity, providing services to around 2,000 adults in England.
On the long-awaited Green Paper, I welcome the Government involving independent respected experts in the field, including Andrew Dilnot, Kate Barker and Caroline Abrahams. However, we are sorry that the Green Paper will not have any element of care for working-age adults when published.
I want to raise a few issues that were mentioned by the Minister in the other place in her answers to MPs. She called for all party groups to be involved and said that there could be no change without consensus. That is exactly what I wanted to hear and it makes sense. The Minister knows our views on this.
On carers, in a debate earlier this week the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, talked about the worth of carers being equivalent to the NHS budget. I also praise carers and I am delighted that they will be involved in this review, but I am somewhat disappointed, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. They went through quite a lot of consultation for the carers strategy and there is a certain amount of irritation that they might have to revisit all this work. If they have caring responsibilities, it is not always easy for them to get to a central place. I hope some mechanism can be found to ensure that that is captured, but also to see whether anything should be changed.
The Minister also agreed that health and social care cannot be considered independent of each other—another area of agreement. Will the Government consider introducing a statutory, independent budget monitoring agency for health and care similar to the Office for Budget Responsibility? This would report every three years on how much money the system needs to deliver safe and sustainable treatment of care. It could even be the first stage in the integration of health and care.
With the delay of the Green Paper, it is unthinkable that the Government are now leaving the social care sector in this state of uncertainty. They have completely failed to address the critical crisis in social care and now there are more than a million vulnerable older people without the support they need. With a funding gap, as we heard just now, of at least £2 billion by 2020, I wonder how much worse things will have to get before the Government will act. To put that in a more balanced way, does the Minister have any sense, whatever the outcomes may be from the Green Paper, of when we might want to see some of those becoming reality? Local authorities will also tell you that they are desperate for a solution. I echo what I said before: how long does the Minister reckon we will have to wait to see something change?